In Singapore, conservation goes two ways. One, you get the heritage geeks who insist on salvaging every last crumbling brick, decorative tile and rusty wrought iron railing to preserve the look and feel of a bygone era. Then you have the cool cats who see a historic building, absorb its spirit and are able to recreate it in modern, hip surroundings.
The Warehouse Hotel is blessed with owners in the latter category who ensured that you don’t have to be well versed in Singapore’s history to get caught up in it. The beautifully restored former godown beside the Singapore River is heritage on the outside but playful on the inside, planting clues from the past to spark your imagination about what life was like in its heyday at the turn of the 20th century.
Stylised pulleys hang from the ceiling in the immense, plush lobby, hinting at the spice (and opium) storage house it once was. Havelock Road, where the hotel is located, was a hotbed of vice, of secret societies and illicit alcohol. The warehouse itself was an illegal distillery, so you’ll find quirky allusions to that throughout. ‘Objects of Vice’ is one such – a lobby installation where handcuffs, lighters and liquor flasks shine under a glass case, an echo of the favourite accessories of the old warehouse bosses and gangsters who frequented the area, and a hint of the fate that awaited them when the law caught up.
In the rooms, ‘minibars of vice’ offer almost everything you need to indulge in deadly sins: salted egg yolk potato chips and Vietnamese chocolate for ‘gluttony’; condoms for ‘lust’ and beauty elixirs for ‘vanity’. The snacks and vanity products are all proudly sourced in Singapore and Asia.
The creative minds behind all this belong to the Lo & Behold Group, a leading food and beverage brand that is making its first foray into accommodation. The Warehouse cunningly extends the group’s expertise at crafting cool dining experiences. The group’s mantra of over-delivering holds true in its 37 rooms – all beautifully appointed and very spacious, with five-star perks such as custom pillow-top mattresses and eco-friendly bath products – at down-to-earth prices starting from $S295. Ask for a river-facing room, or just bask in the minimalist, loft-like interiors finished in soothing neutral tones.
Apart from the bar, a magnet for the ‘in’ crowd, the restaurant Po is an equally big draw despite mixed reviews about its food. The menu is Singaporean with a modern twist, and the signature dish is Popiah – crêpe-like rolls filled with braised vegetables and condiments that you assemble yourself at the table. It’s a fun, communal way to get acquainted with local street fare.
The staff are young and charmingly unpolished. They lack the precision found in well-established chains but you get earnest enthusiasm and a genuine desire to share their knowledge of Singapore with you. Ask, and they will be full of suggestions on very ‘local’ places to visit that aren’t on a visitor’s map.
It’s not the most convenient location, but it’s close enough to town. It’s walking distance to Robertson, Boat and Clarke quays – three riverfront districts that are tourist traps but house a few worthwhile stops. It’s a short cab ride to the CBD shopping thoroughfare of Orchard Road and Chinatown – where traditional markets and local food co-habit with chic eateries.
But most of all, The Warehouse Hotel has something others don’t: it lives and breathes local culture, and you won’t leave without some of that rubbing off on you.
Jaime Ee is the Lifestyle Editor and restaurant critic of The Business Times Singapore. Read more at www.businesstimes.com.sg
320 Havelock Road, Singapore
Tel (+65) 68280000